Indicator Assessment

Recycling rates for packaging waste fractions and municipal waste

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-313-en
  Also known as: SCP 016
Published 22 Jan 2013 Last modified 11 May 2021
13 min read

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Recycling rates have generally increased steadily in Europe for most packaging waste fractions and total municipal waste since the mid-1990s. Total packaging waste recycling rates increased in the EU-15 from 47% to 65% between 1998 and 2010. Recycling rates for total packaging waste for the EU-27 as a whole had reached similar levels (63%) by 2010. Recycling rates of municipal waste in the EU-27 more than doubled between 1995 and 2007, but have stagnated since then. Increasing recycling rates are a sign that Europe is making progress towards a recycling society, but for a number of packaging waste fractions as well as for municipal waste, there is still room for improvement.

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Recycling rates in the EU-15 for municipal waste, total packaging waste and key packaging waste fractions

Note: Time series for the recycling rates (recycling quantities divided by generated quantities) of key packaging waste fractions, total packaging and total municipal waste (EU-15)

Data source:

Recycling rates for key materials and for total municipal and packaging waste, EU-27

Note: Time series for the recycling rates (recycling quantities divided by generated quantities)of key packaging materials, total packaging and total municipal waste (EU-27)

Data source:

The term recycling society was introduced by the Thematic Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste (2005), which aimed to help Europe towards an economy that seeks to avoid waste and uses waste as a resource.  The aim of a recycling society is one where the need for virgin materials is significantly reduced through prevention of wastes and recovery of materials from wastes to be used in the production of new products.

In the EU-15, recycling rates of total packaging waste increased from 47% to 65%, 1998-2010 with almost all individual packaging waste fractions contributing to this increase. Metal packaging recycling rates showed the greatest increase and by 2010, 74% of this waste was recycled. Recycling rates remain highest for paper and cardboard packaging (85%) and lowest for plastic packaging (33%).  However, paper and cardboard packaging recycling rates saw no increase between 2009 and 2010.

Results for the EU-27 since 2004 show similar positive trends, with an increase in total packaging waste recycling from 54% to 63% by 2010.

Improvements in recycling of packaging waste have been influenced to a large degree by the specific recycling targets set in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC).

Recycling rates for municipal waste have also seen steady increases in the EU, increasing from 18 to 42% in the EU-15 between1995 and 2007, and at slightly lower rates from 15% to 38% in the EU-27 as a whole over the same period. Recycling rates have stagnated since 2007, however.

Municipal waste management is regulated by the revised Waste Framework Directive (WFD, 2008/98/EC), which includes targets for recycling for at least paper, metal, plastic and glass. However, the targets set in the Directive will not have had an influence on the recycling rates recorded up to 2007. The stagnation in the recycling rates of municipal waste between 2007 and 2010 would suggest that any policies implemented in Member States to meet the targets set in the 2008 version of the WFD have yet to have an effect. In addition to the WFD, the targets in the Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) to divert biodegradable municipal waste from landfill can be seen as a driver for recycling of municipal waste.

Increasing recycling rates for municipal waste seen prior to 2007 may rather have been encouraged by provisions of the previous WFD, the Landfill Directive and the Packaging Directive since municipal waste contains packaging waste covered by that Directive.

The steady increases in recycling rates for packaging and municipal waste indicates that Europe may be moving towards a recycling society and reducing the demand for virgin materials. However, there is also considerable room for improvement in some packaging fractions such as plastics and wood packaging where recycling rates lie at only 33 and 38% respectively in the EU-27.

Moreover, trends in packaging waste recycling should not be used as representative of total recycling rates in Europe and therefore as the only indicator of whether the EU is moving towards a recycling system. For a number of material types packaging waste makes up a relatively low proportion of total wastes for that material. For instance the total amount of recycled metal packaging waste in EU-27 at 3.3 million tonnes in 2008 represented only 5% of the total quantity of metals recycled in EU-27 in the same year (see indicator SCP015).

Therefore, instruments aimed at increased recycling in waste streams other than packaging waste are needed to push Europe closer towards a recycling society. The revised WFD is one of those instruments.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

This indicator shows recycling rates of packaging waste fractions and municipal waste, and is presented in two figures for the EU-15 and EU-27, respectively.

What constitutes packaging waste is defined by Annex I to the Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC). Packaging comprises all products used for the containment, protection, handling, delivery and presentation of goods, from the producer to the user or the consumer. 'Non-returnable' items used for the same purposes also constitute packaging. Packaging materials include paper and cardboard, plastic, wood, metals and glass.

Municipal waste is waste collected by or on behalf of municipal authorities and disposed of through the waste management system. It mainly comprises household waste but similar wastes from sources such as services, offices and public institutions are included in Eurostat data. Wastes from agriculture and industry are not included. It should be noted that a large part of packaging wastes are reported as municipal waste.

The recycling rate is the share of generated waste which undergoes material recovery (i.e. not energy recovery). Figure 1 presents recycling rates for packaging waste fractions (1998-2010) and for municipal waste (1995-2010) for the EU-15. Wood packaging wastes are first included from 2003 due to lack of reporting by a number of countries during earlier years. Figure 2 presents the same variables for the EU-27, but for the years 2004-2010 for packaging waste recycling rates.

The underlying data has been reported to Eurostat by EU Member States.


This indicator is expressed as a percentage (of recycled material compared to the total waste produced in each category), representing the rate of recycling in both Figures 1 and 2.


Policy context and targets

Context description

The international policy framework for SCP was recently agreed at Rio+20 with the adoption of the ten year framework for action on sustainable consumption and production. The declaration ‘The future we want’ recognised the need to change unsustainable and promote sustainable patterns of consumption and production. More specifically the declaration states that ‘We recognize the importance of adopting a life-cycle approach and of further

development and implementation of policies for resource efficiency and  environmentally sound waste management. We therefore commit to further reduce, reuse and recycle waste (3Rs) ..with a view to managing the majority of global waste in an environmentally sound manner and where possible as a resource.’

Reuse and recycling are also identified as an objective within the Sustainable Consumption and Production theme of the EU’s renewed Sustainable Development Strategy (2006), aiming at ‘avoiding the generation of waste and enhancing efficient use of natural resources by applying the concept of life-cycle thinking and promoting reuse and recycling’ under a broader objective to ‘avoid overexploitation of natural resources’.

One of the objectives of the 6th Environmental Action Programme (Article 8) is to ‘encourage re-use ….preference should be given to recovery and especially to recycling’.

The long term goal of the Thematic Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste is for ‘a recycling society that seeks to avoid waste and uses waste as a resource’. Reuse and recycling are the second most preferred waste management options after waste prevention in the waste hierarchy given in Article 4 of the Waste Framework Directive (WFD). The 2008 WFD sets new targets for Member States for the reuse and recycling of paper, metals, plastic and glass from households and similar origins, and for construction and demolition waste (Article 11). Closed-loop recycling is not mentioned specifically in waste policy documents at the EU level. However, the end-of-waste criteria required under Article 6 of the WFD are developed in part to improve the quality of end-of-life materials to optimise their potential for utilisation in production of new products and thus support the shift towards a closed-loop economy.

The Roadmap for a Resource Efficient Europe (2011) contains a section onTurning Waste into a Resource. This puts focus on raising the priority to reuse and recycling and developing a combination of policies that help create a full recycling economy. These policies include product design integrating a life cycle approach, better cooperation among market actors along the value chain, better collection processes, and appropriate regulatory framework and incentives for waste recycling. The Roadmap contains the milestone that by 2020 ‘recycling and reuse of waste are economically attractive options for public and private actors due to widespread separate collection and the development of functional markets for secondary raw materials.  More materials including materials having a significant impact on the environment and critical raw materials are recycled. Waste legislation is fully implemented. […] Energy recovery is limited to non-recyclable materials, landfilling is virtually eliminated and high quality recycling is ensured.’


According to the Waste Framework Directive (WFD), Art. 11, EU Member States have to meet the following targets related to recycling of waste:

  • by 2015 separate collection shall be set up for at least the following: paper, metal, plastic and glass;
  •  by 2020, the preparing for re-use and the recycling of waste materials such as at least paper, metal, plastic and glass from households and possibly from other origins as far as these waste streams are similar to waste from households, shall be increased to a minimum of overall 50 % by weight;

The Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) sets explicit targets in Article 6 on recovery and recycling of packaging waste. ‘In order to comply with the objectives of this Directive, Member States shall take the necessary measures to attain the following targets covering the whole of their territory;

(a)   no later than five years from the date by which this Directive must be implemented in national law, between 50 % as a minimum and 65 % as a maximum by weight of the packaging waste will be recovered;

(b)   within this general target, and with the same time limit, between 25 % as a minimum and 45 % as a maximum by weight of the totality of packaging materials contained in packaging waste will be recycled with a minimum of 15 % by weight for each packaging material;

(c)    no later than 10 years from the date by which this Directive must be implemented in national law, a percentage of packaging waste will be recovered and recycled, which will have to be determined by the Council in accordance with paragraph 3 (b) with a view to substantially increasing the targets mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b).’

Related policy documents

  • 1600/2002/EC
    Decision no 1600/2002/ec of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 july 2002 laying down the sixth community environment action programme
  • COM(2005) 666 final Thematic Strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste
  • Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste
    European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC of 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste
  • Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe COM(2011) 571
    Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe.  COM(2011) 571  
  • The Future We Want –Declaration of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio (2012)
    The Future We Want is the declaration on sustainable development and a green economy adopted at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio on June 19, 2012. The Declaration includes broad sustainability objectives within themes of Poverty Eradication, Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture, Energy, Sustainable Transport, Sustainable Cities, Health and Population and Promoting Full and Productive Employment. It calls for the negotiation and adoption of internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals by end 2014. It also calls for a UN resolution strengthening and consolidating UNEP both financially and institutionally so that it can better disseminate environmental information and provide capacity building for countries.
  • Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC)
    Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives (Text with EEA relevance)


Methodology for indicator calculation

Figure 1: In order to calculate the recycling rates for the key packaging waste fractions in the EU15, the amount of packaging waste materials recycled each year is divided by waste generation for the same fraction for the same year and multiplied by 100. For the calculation of the recycling rates of municipal waste, a similar methodology was used. The amount of municipal waste recycled (excluding composting) is added to the amount of municipal waste composted in a given year and the sum is divided by the total generation of municipal waste for that year. The result is multiplied by 100 in order to obtain the percentage of municipal waste recycled (representing ‘rate’ of recycling). 

Figure 2: Figure 2 applies the same methodology as Figure 1, using EU-27 data instead of EU-15.

Methodology for gap filling

No gap filling was necessary.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.



Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified.

Data sets uncertainty

The link to the Eurostat methodology and uncertainty for the source datasets on generation and treatment of packaging waste can be found here:

The link to the Eurostat methodology and uncertainty for the source datasets on generation and treatment of municipal waste can be found here:

One uncertainty arises from the fact that 'municipal waste' is defied in different ways in the separate countries reflecting different waste management practices. A second cause of uncertainty is the methods used for measuring or estimating quantities of waste being treated. Accuracy has gradually improved over time due to the installation of weighbridges at treatment facilities.

Rationale uncertainty

Packaging waste and municipal waste make up just 3-4% and 8-9% (respectively) of total waste generated in the EU-27. Furthermore, if increased recycling rates are accompanied by an increase in demand for materials for production, they may not have led to any absolute reduction in the use of virgin materials.

Supplementary indicators are therefore included to provide further answers to this policy question. Indicator SCP015 investigates trends in recycling quantities for key waste fractions in all waste streams in Europe, while Indicator SCP042 investigates the extent to which demand for materials for production of goods can be met by materials recovered through recycling.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Response
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)
Indicator codes
  • SCP 016
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage



Filed under:
Filed under: packaging waste


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